The “Difficulty of Reality”: Terezin/ Theresienstadt
Unlike most of the places we visit in our lives, Terezin is on our list, not in spite of the tragic history of the Jews who were incarcerated here, but because of it. We rarely think about what the Romans did to their slaves and prisoners of war. We go to Rome to marvel at the antiquities, including the coliseum. But when we get off the bus from Prague in Terezin, though we could easily turn left to the large inviting public square and then continue our rambles across the field and into the suburbs beyond, we turn right instead. We are already programed to proceed directly to the information stand and the Ghetto Museum, where we receive further instructions on how to visit Terezin. How many of us ever see present-day Terezin at all; or, for that matter, the Terezin that preceded the War? My present focus on sites of Holocaust commemoration and memorialization such as Terezin is an attempt to understand physical sites as occasions for philosophical and moral reflection in which we put the experiencing “subject” – i.e. ourselves – at the center of the inquiry into what such spaces, or, more precisely, our engagement with such spaces, can yield in terms of self-reflective moral knowledge. We scholars of the Holocaust need to be especially scrupulous in our motives and agendas in relation to the objects of our inquiry so as to free the past from our claims on it and to permit the victims of the Holocaust their maximum voice and freedom.